Can the Blue Jackets justify their big spending?

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Much of the narrative surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets revolves around what this team can do with even a reasonably clean bill of health. It overshadows a key question, though: can they live up to the hype?

The Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace shines a light on this situation, as the market isn’t accustomed to the Blue Jackets coming into a season with such aspirations.

So, Jackets fans ought to doff their cap to majority owner John P. McConnell. Whatever else one might say about the man, he has been willing to spend on talent. That is all one can ask of an owner. The rest is on management and on the players.

The first and last time the Jackets were a “cap team” was in 2011-12, after the big-ticket acquisitions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski. That team was a chic midsummer pick, too. Carter was a dog and begged out of town, but not before he poisoned the locker room. Then, Rick Nash asked for a trade for the (cough, cough) betterment of the franchise. That season was a disaster.

Interesting stuff, and it really does spotlight something many haven’t considered: the stakes are pretty high for this edition of the Blue Jackets.

Married to some pricey players

The Blue Jackets are under pressure to show that this roster will be competitive both in 2015-16 and in the future, as a ton of their contracts are hefty and long-term.

Brandon Saad ($6 million), Brandon Dubinsky ($5.8M), Nick Foligno ($5.5M), David Clarkson ($5.25M) and Scott Hartnell ($4.75M) all boast contracts that run through 2018-19 or later. Sergei Bobrovsky ranks as one of the NHL’s most expensive goalies with his $7.425 million cap hit. Ryan Johansen’s a huge steal right now at a $4 million mark, but a big upgrade is looming as his deal expires after the 2016-17 campaign.

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Long story short, the picture is pretty clear. The injury angle screams “plenty of room to improve,” yet the Blue Jackets aren’t exactly in a place where they have nothing to lose.

In fact, the franchise might not be able to afford another disappointing season, lucky or not.

Teacher-pest: Blue Jackets add Jarkko Ruutu to staff

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The Columbus Blue Jackets already valued their image as “little rats,” and now it sounds like they’ll get to learn from one of the biggest pests. The Blue Jackets hired Jarkko Ruutu as a scout and European player development coach on July 2.

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen explained to the Columbus Dispatch why he hired the former pot-stirring forward.

“I absolutely want a person and a player like Jarkko around our young guys,” Kekalainen said. “This is a guy who worked his (butt) off and did everything he could to get to the league and stay there.

“His work ethic earned him everything he’s got. There’s a great lesson there.”

They might not need many lessons in chirping, though, at least ones that current roster players couldn’t already provide.

One assumes that the likes of Scott Hartnell could make fun of people almost as well as he can mock himself. We’ve already seen what happens when people rub Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky the wrong way.

Others will need to scratch and claw to make an increasingly impressive roster, so perhaps Ruutu can impart some useful wisdom on those trying to find a way.

Boy, the Blue Jackets aren’t exactly taking Reilly rejection in stride

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Not every Columbus Blue Jackets player has submitted a bitter tweet about Mike Reilly signing with the Minnesota Wild (yet?), but a couple of them are coming across as jilted lovers.

It started out with what almost felt like a “subtweet” on June 17, as Ryan Johansen simply said “We didn’t want him anyway.”

Apparently that bitterness lingered over the holiday weekend, as Brandon Dubinsky (pictured fighting Sidney Crosby in the main image) chimed in last night.

(The #burntbridges hash tag seems like the height of the “sour grapes” angle, at least if you’re looking at this in terms of a bitter breakup.)

Dubinsky’s tweet prompted plenty of responses, and he even had a little give-and-take:

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo wondered if, erm, the holiday spirit(s) might have been involved:

(Dubinsky is from Alaska, so he may have been celebrating the Fourth of July. Just saying …)

Anyway, it’s all in salty-good fun, right? The Blue Jackets face Minnesota in a preseason game on Sep. 24, then in two regular season contests on Oct. 22 and Jan. 5. Perhaps we’ll see at least one contest that features Reilly, Johansen and Dubinsky entering on-ice @-replies, then?

Maybe Dubinsky’s just bitter about this “coaching decision,” though:

Locked in: Columbus signs Saad to six-year, $36M deal

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It took a while, but the Blue Jackets finally inked their guy.

On Friday, Columbus announced it had signed Brandon Saad — acquired three days ago in a blockbuster trade with Chicago — to a six-year contract extension. Per Sportsnet, it’s a $36 million deal with an average annual cap hit of $6M.

“Adding a player of Brandon’s caliber is exciting for the Columbus Blue Jackets organization and our fans,” Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “We are extremely pleased to have reached this long-term commitment that assures he will be an important part of our team for years to come.”

Saad, 22, was acquired in a multi-player deal that saw prospects Alex Broadhurst and Michael Paliotta also come to Columbus, in exchange for Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Corey Tropp, Jeremy Morin and a fourth-round pick in 2016. Like Saad, Anisimov quickly signed with his new team, inking a five-year, $22.75 million deal with the Blackhawks earlier this week.

Getting Saad locked in is a major score for Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets organization. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner, scored a career-high 23 goals last year and is considered to be one of the brightest young forwards in the league — along with center and likely future linemate Ryan Johansen, the two will cut an imposing figure for Columbus next season.

Speaking of Johansen, it’s worth noting that with this deal, Saad becomes the highest-paid skater in Columbus (in terms of cap hit, anyway), ahead of Brandon Dubinsky ($5.85M) and captain Nick Foligno ($5.5M). Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is the team’s highest-paid individual, with a $7.425M cap hit that kicks in next season.

Johansen, who becomes a RFA again in 2017, is currently making $4M per.

Jackets’ Zito named Lake Erie GM

The Columbus Blue Jackets have named assistant general manager Bill Zito the general manager of the American Hockey League’s Lake Erie Monsters the team announced on Tuesday.

Zito has been in his role with the Blue Jackets for two years. According to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, Zito has been responsible for many of the club’s big contract negotiations including Ryan Johansen, Brandon Dubinsky and Sergei Bobrovsky.

“I’m honored and excited to take on this challenge,” Zito said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the Lake Erie organization.”

Zito will maintain his current role with the Jackets and oversee all hockey operations efforts for Lake Erie.

The 50-year-old replaces Chris MacFarland who left the Blue Jackets in May to join the Colorado Avalanche.

Prior to joining the Blue Jackets in August 2013, Zito spent two decades as an agent Acme World Sports representing the likes of Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask and Kimmo Timonen.